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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
12th March 2009


Romani ite domum

CENTURION: What's this, then? 'Romanes Eunt Domus'? 'People called Romanes they go the house'?

BRIAN: It-- it says, 'Romans, go home'.

CENTURION: No, it doesn't. What's Latin for 'Roman'? Come on!

BRIAN: Aah!

CENTURION: Come on!

BRIAN: 'R-- Romanus'?

CENTURION: Goes like...?

BRIAN: 'Annus'?

CENTURION: Vocative plural of 'annus' is...?

BRIAN: Eh. 'Anni'?

CENTURION: 'Romani'. 'Eunt'? What is 'eunt'?

BRIAN: 'Go'. Let--

CENTURION: Conjugate the verb 'to go'.

BRIAN: Uh. 'Ire'. Uh, 'eo'. 'Is'. 'It'. 'Imus'. 'Itis'. 'Eunt'.

 

Right, stop that, that’s silly!  The Antonine Wall was the focus of much attention on Tuesday, more beset by politicians than it ever was by the savage hordes living beyond the North Western frontier of the Roman empire.  We were there to highlight the wall’s status as a World Heritage Site – one of Linda Fabiani’s achievements during her time as Minister for Culture and Wednesday’s event was fronted by new Culture Minister Mike Russell – or would have been had he not been running late and had Michael Matheson MSP step in to do the first bit before Mr Russell could get there.  He was joined by London Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism Barbara Follett MP and each donned a silly hat and looked ridiculous – unlike me…

 

Barbara Follett is a very pleasant woman and easy to get along with, a politician with a human touch and certainly a cut above the other Labour MPs who were there, her good manners and intelligent conversation a refreshing change from the boorishness of her colleagues.  If ever again I despair of Labour MSPs I’ll take myself off to meet some Labour MPs and put it all in perspective – if these are the guardians of the honour and traditions of Westminster then supporters of that institution might well be asking “quis custodiet ipsos custodies?”

After such frolics and frivolities, though, it was back to the ordinary stuff – sic transit gloria! 

Education Committee on Wednesday morning for an evidence session on social work – something which is a fairly sensitive subject at the moment with the court case over the death of a young child in Dundee.  I was employed in social work before May 2007 (learning development officer) and I have some degree of understanding of the pressures under which social workers operate and the situations which sometimes occur in which it is difficult to determine the most appropriate course of action.  The pressures on our social services are quite intense and I maintain my respect and sympathy for those on the front line. 

There is a limit to what can be done by social work staff in any case, and cases like the Brandon Muir one highlight the difficulties of ensuring the safety of children and why we should always seek to learn and improve on the services we provide.

The afternoon plenary session on Wednesday saw us finally get through to righting a wrong that resulted from a House of Lords judgement as we passed the Damages Bill which will restore the rights to compensation of workers who suffered asbestos-related conditions as a result of negligence other than their own.  It’s been a long hard fight for many of the sufferers of pleural plaques and some of them weren’t around to see the final victory but it is at least satisfying to know that we have put right something which had gone badly wrong.

Today’s debate in chamber was a Lib Dem one where they sought to force the Government to guarantee a minimum income of £7,000 for every student in Scotland through grants, loans and parental contributions – but without saying what the proportions should be.  Indeed, the Lib Dems made it clear during the debate that it could be 100% loan.  The brass neck of the bunch who landed us with the Graduate Endowment tuition fee now trying to tell us we aren’t doing enough for students and offering as an alternative a whopping great burden for students to carry!  That would be a £7,000 per year tuition fee – plus interest.  Shameful.

I’m pleased that we have a record we can stand on.  The Treasury refused to allow us to move the Student Loans money from AME to DEL (it’s a bit technical, but basically means that they keep control of it and what it’s spent on) to prevent us from turning loans into grants, providing free maintenance on top of the free education we provide since we abolished the Graduate Endowment.  Education based on the ability to learn rather than the ability to pay is a benefit to all of society – and the benefit of avoidance of long-term indebtedness should be obvious to everyone now.  Even with that refusal of the Treasury to allow the freedom for the Scottish Government to change policy, though, Fiona Hyslop started pushing it through by other means – 20,000 part-time students (often the poorest) now get grants instead of loans, improving their chances of finishing their courses and thereby improving their life-chances.

It’s not enough yet, but we won’t give up.  Quod incepimus conficiemus.

Some of the research that I used to rebut the daft arguments of our opponents came from Scotland’s Colleges and you can read it for yourself here - http://www.ascol.org.uk/Key%20Facts%202008.pdf

The Association of Scotland’s Colleges has done good work here, making sure that the voices of Scotland’s college students are heard.  That’s pastoral care!

Talking of colleges, I was privileged to be invited to attend Motherwell College on Friday for the launch of its International Baccalaureate programme – the first and the only state-funded education establishment in Scotland to be authorised to deliver the programme.  Well done Motherwell College!  I was also given the chance to tour the new campus (still being built) – another outing for the hardhat and the steel toe-capped wellies!  I still don’t fancy being a builder.

Roma locuta est. Causa finita est.


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